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Why I Want You to Learn from My Experience Working Remotely

Last year I joined Remote Year and started a year of working remotely with a group of 71 others. I think I can say I’ve seen it all now, as this was not my first experience with the concept; I have worked remotely and independently for a few months in Asia, and have had to create my own office since 2009.

On top of that I have been researching the future of the workplace for a series of articles, so I think I can say I have a pretty complete and broad experience with the concept — which is exactly why I want to share that with you.

Working remotely is a great opportunity if it’s for you, but the important part is recognizing if it’s for you — or your employees, for that matter. To get you started, here are some thoughts on the various perspectives:

As an employee: working remotely can get you out of a rut, it lets you experience the world and life with a degree of freedom that is hard to obtain otherwise. Whether you use that flexibility to spend time with your kids, travel the world or pursue a side-project, doesn’t even matter that much. It allows you to spend your best hours on what works best at any time. This makes you more productive in every aspect. The downside is that it can be lonely, and that you will miss the office culture. Make sure to stay in a social environment with people that pursue similar dreams or careers. They don’t have to work at the same company, but your life philosophy is bound to swing if you spend all your time with Balinese temple workers.

Employees: remember that working remotely… is actually/still working!

As an employer: let them go. If anything, it will free up office space which makes a more efficient use of square footage! It also allows you to hire talent that is not willing or able to move towards your office. It allows your employees to decide when they should work on their projects, which means they are probably using their time more effectively. I mean, you didn’t think that their presence at the office means that they’re always working, right? Let them put in a few hours here and there, and measure deliverables. There is an additional advantage of your employees being happier and exposed to a much wider variety of experiences, which forms them in a way the office can’t. You can even have them visit various offices around the globe, if the company is big enough. Just be careful with the balance of life and work; if you’re used to paying them for forty hours in which they did an X amount of work, does it mean that when they are more efficient, you should go and expect 2X for the same amount of money, or do you pay them less? In other words; you have to ask yourself if the salary you’re used to paying them is for their time or their output. Have an open discussion about it!

Side note: I felt like time went slower on Remote Year; I developed quicker than I would have outside of it. Don’t underestimate that side! Read about this effect in my other blog about being in the ‘Time Chamber’.

Employers: your employees may have just been doing karaoke with local youths, but that doesn’t mean they’re not doing their job!

As an entrepreneur or freelancer: working remotely is most likely what you’re doing already. By definition, you either work at home, or at a coworking space. But your home or office could be anywhere, and it’s definitely worth considering your options. If your line of work allows it, it can be great to see some of the world while you work. The additional value of programs like Remote Year is the contact with other entrepreneurs, which can be incredibly inspiring. I know I wouldn’t have been where I am now, even if I can’t say any of my co-remotes are involved as clients in any way. The downside of doing this as an entrepreneur or freelancer is that you lose touch with your client base, so you need to be sure that they are open to dealing with somebody who is thousands of miles away. And with a fluctuating income, working remotely can be a challenge. Cause no matter how cheap Asia is, you don’t want to be working from a $3 hostel. If you want to be productive you have to have a good place and/or workspace, and this costs a little more. Even with that taken into account you have the option to travel more or to stay put for a while to save money, and your standard of living will be higher than at home (if you’re from a Western country).

Entrepreneurs: be aware of your image when this is what your weekend looks like. Are your clients ok with that?

For everybody goes that working remotely takes away from the quality of interpersonal contact. Even if you get your work done — maybe even in a better way — you will miss out on the water cooler chat, the office parties, the non-verbal communication. My research showed that there seems to be a growth limit for companies who go remote. There is work to be done. Yes, we have Skype and FaceTime, but this isn’t, nor will it ever be, a good enough substitute for a pat on the back or a walk to lunch. Part of this will be taken over by the other participants in programs like Remote Year, but especially travelling alone can be lonely because of this. Read my other article on why I think that Remote Year has a value that is hidden at first, but no less significant if you’re thinking about pursuing this.

If you want a visual summary of what my year looked like, check out this post. It will show you that work has been very much a part of it!

Everyone: will you fade away without human contact, or do you seek other ways to stimulate your social muscles? Know thyself! (photo by Dan Gold)

Then there are those with relationships. Don’t think doing this will not change that fact. You can do it together (my girlfriend was on Remote Year too), or apart (I’ve done that too), but it will shake things up either way. I’m very happy with the dynamics it has brought us, but of course it has been challenging for time to time. We tried many ways of living, working and being together, and have such a broad perspective on our life together now, it’s great!

Lovers: do you want security and stability, or do you risk a few lows to reach for many new heights? (Photo by Dan Gold)

These are just some of the thoughts that cross my mind if I think about working remotely, and I’m not sure if I should write more — every situation is different. It depends on your expectations, personality, line of business, etc, etc.

Writing the articles and being in one of the first groups of Remote Year made me a little more high-profile than before, so lots of people have reached out to me about this way of working, or how it is as a couple. I have had many Skype calls with people who were considering it, many of whom are now happy remotes as well. Because I enjoy doing this, I’m offering my services to any company or individual that wants to learn what the concept of remote working can mean for them. So shoot me a message if you want to talk about your specific situation and I’m happy to help you out.

Cheers, Stephan